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Thursday, October 29, 2020

In pandemic, Centre waved red flag on trafficking, but key states yet to take action

From UP to Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh to Jharkhand, eight states fall short in setting up anti-trafficking units

Written by Dipankar Ghose | New Delhi | Updated: October 13, 2020 12:27:30 pm
In pandemic, Centre waved red flag on trafficking, but key states yet to take action1.92 lakh interventions by rescuers and law agencies between March and August. In those six months, the helpline logged 27 lakh distress calls.

Three months ago, the Ministry of Home Affairs sent an advisory to all states laying down several markers to combat human trafficking — especially of children from families left in the lurch by the economic distress triggered by the lockdown. The key, it said, was the creation of Anti Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs) in every district on a “most urgent basis”.

But official records investigated by The Indian Express show that eight states, including Covid hotspot Maharashtra and UP, and J&K are yet to put these units in place.

In fact, records show, UP and Maharashtra are among six states in this group that have not reached a basic norm first mapped out ten years ago: set up AHTUs in at least 50 per cent of police districts. UP had only 35 units for 75 districts, and Maharashtra just 12 for 36 districts.

And, except for J&K and Jharkhand, the others on the list — UP, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Mizoram and Nagaland — have not set up a single unit since March, when the lockdown was imposed.

This inaction by the states is glaring as cases of child trafficking have surged over this period. On Monday, The Indian Express reported that officials manning Childline’s 1098, the national helpline for distress calls, tracked

1.92 lakh interventions by rescuers and law agencies between March and August. In those six months, the helpline logged 27 lakh distress calls.

The Home Ministry’s letter, signed by Deputy Secretary Arun Sobti and dated July 6, warned: “Traffickers often exploit the vulnerabilities of people by making false promises of a new job, better income, better living conditions and support to their families, etc. While such promises of perpetrators appear legitimate to people, unfortunately it makes many men, women and children easy prey for exploitation.”

It also indicated to DGPs and Chief Secretaries that lack of funds can no longer be used as an excuse.

“An amount of Rs 25.16 crore was released to states from 2010 to 2019 for setting up AHTUs in 332 districts. Recently, a decision was taken to establish AHTUs in all districts of states and UTs and also establish AHTUs under the border guarding forces such as BSF and SSB in border areas to check and curb transnational trafficking. Rs 100 crore were allocated from the Nirbhaya Fund for setting up new AHTUs and for strengthening existing AHTUs, covering all districts of states/UTs,” the letter said.

AHTUs were initiated in 2006, to be set up by the states with funds from the Centre. Each unit typically comprises seven to 12 trained personnel from the police and state administration, and is usually headed by a police officer.

The Home Ministry’s letter followed directions from the Supreme Court to frame guidelines after the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), founded by Nobel Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi, filed a writ petition on April 29 flagging the crisis.

The petition warned: “Once the lockdown is lifted and normal manufacturing activity resumes, factory owners will look to cover their financial losses by employing cheap labour, the easiest of which is children. Numbers of street children pushed into begging will also spike…Underage girls will be bought and sold into prostitution.”

In its letter to states, the Home Ministry wrote: “States/UTs are advised to immediately set up new AHTUs and upgrade the infrastructure of existing AHTUs in all districts of their state with the financial assistance provided by the Central government and make these units functional on a ‘most urgent basis’.”

And yet, these administrations have failed to get their act together:

Uttar Pradesh

Districts: 75. AHTUs: 35

Units since March: 0

DGP Hitesh Chandra Awasthy said there were “just 16-17 units seven-eight years ago”. “These units require vehicles, infrastructure and workforce, and everything cannot be obtained in one go, so we have been developing in phases. The scheme is Centre-funded, and we will keep increasing the numbers based on resources provided. To cover more areas, units are sometimes given charge of more than one district, and the areas left out are covered by the local police,” he said.

Recently, the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) selected six districts — Bahraich, Lakhimpur Kheri, Shravasti, Gonda, Maharajganj and Pilibhit — to launch the initial phase of a study on human trafficking, child labour and child marriage.

Maharashtra

Districts: 36. AHTUs: 12

Units since March: 0

Officials said the state plans to have 47 AHTUs in place that will cover commissionerates in cities as well as the 36 districts. “We sent a proposal to set up six more AHTUs four months ago. Another proposal was sent two weeks ago to set up 29 more units after the central government released funds of Rs 4.62 crore,” said Pratap Dighavkar, special IG (Prevention of Atrocities Against Women), the nodal authority.

Chhattisgarh

Districts: 29. AHTUs: 8

Units since March: 0

Senior police officers said work is still on to set up three more units sanctioned in 2018-19. In June 2020, the central government issued Rs 3.6 crore for setting up of 16 more units. “Setting up a new unit depends on the central government budget allocation. We didn’t have money to set up more than eight from 2010-2013. The state’s own anti-human trafficking unit has been working to stop trafficking,” said R K Vij, Additional DG.

Jharkhand

Districts: 24. AHTUs: 12

Since March: 4

Since the lockdown came into force, units were set up in Sahebganj, Giridih, Latehar and Godda. “We have submitted applications for AHTUs in the other 12 districts as well. Since the funds have only been released now, we will work on setting them up,” said Anil Palta, ADG (CID).

Haryana

Districts: 22. AHTUs: 7

Units since March: 0

“Recently, we got approval from the state government to set up 15 more AHTUs to cover every district. They will be set up soon,” said a senior police officer.

Jammu & Kashmir

Districts: 20. AHTUs: 8

Units since March: 1

Seven AHTUs are operational currently with a new unit set up in Ganderbal in August, officials said.

Uttarakhand

Districts: 13. AHTUs: 7

Units since March: 0

DG (law and order) Ashok Kumar said that a proposal has been to the government to set up AHTUs in the remaining six districts. The last AHTUs were set up in 2015 in Dehradun, Pithoragarh and Uttarkashi.

Nagaland

Districts: 12. AHTUs: 6

Units since March: 0

A senior official said that the state has got approval for upgrading the existing six AHTUs and creation of five new units. “Each AHTU is headed by the Additional SP of the district, and there are 15 police personnel, including five women police officers,” the official said.

Mizoram

Districts: 11. AHTUs: 4

Units since March: 0

A senior police officer said that steps are being taken to establish units in all districts after the state received more central funds recently.

(With Avaneesh Mishra, Sadaf Modak, Gargi Verma, Varinder Bhatia, Lalmani Verma, Naveed Iqbal & Abhishek Saha)

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